By Erin Chew
If you were to ask me to name a director who has succeeded in both China/Taiwan and in Hollywood, I would name Ang Lee. A legend in his craft, Lee is known for his groundbreaking cinematography and technological approaches. His latest film about human cloning, Gemini Man, is no exception.
According to the film’s synopsis, Gemini Man follows Henry Brogan, “an elite assassin who becomes the target of a mysterious operative who can seemingly predict his every move. To his horror, he soon learns that the man who’s trying to kill him is a younger, faster, cloned version of himself.”
Will Smith plays Henry Brogen and a digital Will Smith plays young Henry Brogen (aka “Junior”). Lee and producer Jerry Bruckheimer utilized new technological approaches to digitally recreate a younger version of Brogen (Smith). Audiences watching the film might be fooled into thinking they are seeing Will Smith times two. In reality, it is a 100% digital recreation of what Smith’s character would look like in his youth. Lee, Bruckheimer and Smith spoke about the film’s technological feats recently at a press event.
“Technology wise, the aim was to work with people’s imagination, self consciousness, and their perception that human cloning could be a soon reality – and that is the hardest part of it all,” Lee said. “To get “Junior” (younger Will Smith) to be “believable”, myself, Jerry, Will and the crew had to understand the science of aging and how our emotions connects to bodily tissues.”
Lee and Bruckheimer stated at a press event that the decision to digitally create Junior was a risk, which could be “hit and a miss” with audiences.
“But when everything is absolutely accurate and perfect this too is incorrect because for the audience to accept the concept of human cloning there has to be room for error, and that is the balance which we had to achieve with recreating ‘Junior,'” Lee said.
Smith praised Lee, Bruckheimer and the film crew for attempting to digitally create a younger version of the Brogen character instead of simply de-aging Smith’s face in post-production.
“I have been doing a lot of interviews and what people do not completely understand is the depth of what Ang, Jerry and the crew have attempted to accomplish here,” Smith said. “Junior is not ‘de-aging’ and it is not my actual face being smoothed out or my face being made to look younger and more youthful. It is 100% digital in the same way the tiger in Life of Pi was.”
In actual fact, this is not the first time Lee has used this approach to digitally create an entire being – it was in Life of Pi, that Lee first used this approach to 100% digitally recreate the tiger in the film. However, both Lee and Smith stated that, digitally recreating an animal is a lot easier than digitally recreating another human.
“It was different with Life of Pi, because once we saw the tiger we knew we got it right, but with Gemini Man there was no such feeling, it was and still is as though we are on a whimsical,” Lee said.
Smith added that they also had to ensure that audiences felt emotionally connected to the digitally created Junior, a challenge that Lee did not face when creating the tiger.
“The difference is that in Life of Pi a tiger is a tiger, but with “Junior” it is 100% digital human and the challenge is to be able to make the audience feel emotional towards “Junior” and the way to do that is for him to have innocent, youthful eyes – that is hard to create because you can’t fake innocence,” Smith said.
Gemini Man was shot with 120 frames per second an approach seldom been used in cinema today. Both Lee and Bruckheimer said that they shot Gemini Man with the 120 frames to ensure realism and clarity.
“As a director and filmmaker to me what is most important is the clarity and sharpness of the film,” Lee said. “In addition to the 120 frames per second, we also shot in 3D to appear more “immersive” so that audiences can experience what human cloning could actually be like. Not only is the film clearer but it is very sharp and that is the way to achieve realism in films.”
Bruckheimer added that they wanted to bring the audience new experiences and continue to push the needle forward.
“Our goal is to bring a new experience to the audience,” Bruckheimer said. “If you think about it we haven’t really made huge technology advances in cinema for quite a while, so I think now is a better time than never. Audiences for sure will not be use to seeing a film with such sharpness and clarity, and in that sense, Ang is really a pioneer with using this type of cinematic experience.”
Lee acknowledged that shooting 120 frames per second has its advantages and risks.
“In saying that, doing this is a huge risk and we still don’t really know how audiences will react, but we just try and hope it works and hope that this is the start of using new approaches to film making,” Lee said.
After the press event, I spoke briefly with Lee about his achievement in being a bridge between Chinese and Western film making. It is already difficult to be successful in one region, but Lee is successful in both lucrative film industries.
“I don’t see myself as a legend or a pioneer, but really I just try my best to ensure that the work I do and the films I make does justice for all audiences,” Lee said. “The challenges in creating films in the Chinese film industry is different to the challenges faced in Hollywood and really I am only human, but as long as I keep creating I will ensure that I will do the best job. To me issues of representation, visibility and authenticity in story telling is most important and this is the message I will continue to push in my work.”
Gemini Man opens this Friday October 11 in the US. The action-packed film will really answer the looming question: What if human cloning was a reality, and will creating humans artificially save humankind from death and despair or will it be another scientific disaster?
Associate Editor Akemi Tamanaha contributed to the writing and editing of this story.
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